Firstly, thanks for proving that HR people are not truly evil – but are maligned, perhaps somewhat like dentists. Thanks for your blog, it’s very interesting, and truly different.

Secondly, an interesting question for you: If you met a random Joe Blow on the street, What 5-6 questions would you ask him to be able to predict his salary? What do you think the most important factors are when it comes to remuneration (In general, or within a field!)

I must say that I don’t know how to take an assertion that HR people are like dentists. Speaking of dentists, I actually went to the dentist this week. No new cavities (my teeth are so filled, there probably isn’t any room left for more fillings)! I always feel like a dentist appointment is like a performance appraisal: (I can see that you are having trouble reaching your back teeth. Do you need an explanation of how to brush? How about flossing? Don’t lie to me because I can tell…)

Anyway, your question. I presume you are asking because you, like me, suffer from a case of extreme nosiness. Or you are dating and trying to find someone to support you in the style to which you’d like to become accustomed. I’ll play along–and throw out the challenge to my readers as well.

If I wanted to figure out someone’s salary without sounding like I was truly prying. (Now my friends who read this are going to be onto me!)

1. So, what do you do for a living? (Make sure you try to get a title out of this question)

2. What company do you work for? (This is important because different industries have very different pay scales. If their answer does not clue you into the industry or size of the company then we can go to question 3.)

3. I think I’ve heard of them. Is that a large company? (Bigger companies tend to pay more than smaller companies and that question will help to open up info about the industry. If it’s a non-profit, well then they probably are looking for you to provide the financial support in the relationship.)

4. That’s interesting, I don’t know anything about [companies that do x or people that do y, whichever will yield you more info]. (I realize this is a statement, not a question, but it will get people talking. In reality, as they do this they will tell you more about the company and more about what they do. You’ll want to find out if they supervise others, and if so, how many.

5. What does your spouse do? (If you are trying to find out for dating purposes, this will also weed out any married people. I’m trying to be helpful on many levels. This also will help give you a clue because people tend to marry people with similar earning potential, unless one spouse is a stay at home parent, then this question doesn’t really help.

So, those are my nosey, salary eliciting questions. Of course, you could always be straight forward and say, “So, what is your annual gross salary, plus expected bonuses?” But in most cases, that won’t get you very far.

If you are asking because you are a recruiter, I recommend the direct approach. Otherwise good luck with the indirect quote.

And readers, I expect your nosey questions in the comments.

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4 thoughts on “HR=Dentists

  1. Actually, as an employment lawyer, I think WE’RE more like dentists than HR people.

    I disagree that your married question doesn’t help if the spouse is stay-at-home. If you can find out what their standard of living is (where did they go on vacation, where do they live) you can guesstimate a salary.

    For example, if I know my friends just bought a house worth $250000, that is a useful comparison vs a someone who just bought a $1.25M house.

    So, add where someone lives and where their last vacation if you can get it….

  2. Good point, Daniel. For a non-intrusive, yet still nosey question, you can say, “We’re trying to figure out where to go on vacation this year. Where do you go?”

    And for the house, there’s always the internet. It’s pretty easy to find out what someone paid for their house.

  3. Haha, where you go on vacation can certainly be good, but for me, nothing beats knowing where you stay on vacation. I’ve been to some fairly expensive cities, though staying on the budget-traveler mode. I have yet to see any of the power earners stay at any of the hotels I choose when I go away.

  4. 6th question… And what kind of an eduction do you need to get into that role? Or where did you go to college? As a general rule, the better qualified (and the more experienced), the more they are paid, and a degree from Yale is worth a whole lot more than a diploma from hometown community college. Exceptions are working for charities or the government, but that’s useful too – charities tend to pay low, governmental salaries are often available on the internet.

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